WCS Winter Ro16: The Gate CrashersBy: Soularion and Wax
It gets a bit tiring talking about the same old players and the same old storylines: Serral defending his Global Championship, Scarlett's inconsistent form, SpeCial and his semifinal jinx, Nerchio and some vague compliment on his longevity while not taking him seriously, and so forth.
So this week, we're going to preview the WCS Winter round of 16 by focusing on the lesser-known participants, the world warriors who you may not have expected to make it this far.
WCS EuropeBroadcast: 15:00 GMT (+00:00) @ Twitch.tv/starcraft
Group A: Namshar - Defeated SoulSpirit and Ziggy in RO32
Namshar has a regular place on lists like these, and for a long time he was overshadowed by his fellow Swedish Zergs SortOf and Zanster. However, he's quietly been impressing anyone who pays attention to RO32 or RO16 games on the WCS Circuit, whether it's eliminating Scarlett right after her IEM PyeongChang victory or playing in thrilling series against the likes of ShoWTimE. While he started 2018 strong with a top 16 finish at WCS Leipzig, he didn't make a single WCS playoff appearance for the rest of the year (he ended up with mediocre finishes at IEM Katowice as well as WESG).
Namshar took care of business against the lesser known SoulSpirit and Ziggy in the RO32, but the difficulty will ramp up in the RO16 as he faces Reynor, MaNa, and PtitDrogo. However, with a solid 60% ZvP win-rate in the 2018 season, this might be his chance to return to a major quarterfinal for the first time since DreamHack Austin 2016.
Group B: HateMe - Defeated SortOf and Zanster in RO32
The European scene is so deep that there are few 'true' surprises, but HateMe's triumph in the RO32 comes close to qualifying as one. Previously known for his occasional appearances in the WCS Circuit group stages (his best finish was RO32 at WCS Valencia 2017), HateMe took out far more established players in Zanster and SortOf to earn his RO16 spot. SortOf appeared to have the upper-hand with a hidden base in his deciding game three against HateMe, but a Roach charge into the heart of SortOf's main sealed the series for the underdog. HateMe then proved his ZvZ prowess once more against Zanster to earn his RO16 spot. Unfortunately, HateMe's next group includes just one Zerg in Lambo, while his other two opponents are top EU Terrans uThermal and HeRoMaRinE. This should be quick 0-4 elimination, right? Well, that's what they said before the RO32...
Group C: Hellraiser - Defeated Gerald and Denver in the RO32
In terms of live tournament resumes, Hellraiser is easily the least accomplished player in this round as he's never made it to the RO32 in a previous WCS Circuit event. However, his online performances in 2018 make his advancement not much of a surprise at all. He's finished in the upper-half of the standings table in big online tournaments such as QLASH Invitational and Ultimate Series, and now he's done it again in the online portion of WCS Winter.
Hellraiser's group stage performance wasn't exactly awe-inspiring, but he did show that he was well-versed in the dark arts. A proxy-oracle sealed his win against Gerald, while he took out Denver with two different kinds of cannon rushes. "A win is a win," as
Group D: Rail - Defeated Bly x2 in RO32
Rail might be the personification of the cliche that Europe is the deepest region, having achieved multiple RO16+ finishes in live events without ever having shed the 'underdog' tag in six years. He looked closely matched against uThermal in a tight 1-2 loss, while he was able to pass the Bly-test™ twice (even without live cameras, we could see him rolling his eyes at multiple proxy-hatch attempts) to advance from his RO32 group.
Repeating the theme from the rest of this write-up, Rail's reward for his good play is to face Serral as his first opponent in the round of 16. Well then.
On the bright side, PvP's against GunGFuBanDa (who actually came in first in his RO32 group) and Harstem could go any which way, which still gives Rail a shot to emerge as the darkest horse in Europe.
WCS AmericasBroadcast: 19:00 GMT (+00:00) @ Twitch.tv/starcraft
Group A: Rex - Defeated GogojOey and JimRising in RO32
WCS Americas has been a land of opportunity for players from the so-called 'minor' regions, and top Taiwanese Zerg Rex is one of those to seize his chance. Forged in the fires of WCS Taiwan/HK/Macau/Japan, Rex has finally earned a top 16 berth in a WCS tournament. He's no Sen—a macro Zerg of the highest order—nor is he a Has—an artisanal cheese-maker—but he IS a savvy ZvZ player as he showed in the RO32. Now that he faces two more Zergs in his RO16 group, a top-eight finish within his sight. One has to imagine that Scarlett and Cham will provide stiffer challenges, but perhaps Rex can ride the advantage of being a relatively unscouted player even further.
Group B: Coffee - Defeated Seither and TLO in RO32
The most intriguing result of WCS Winter has to go to Coffee's advancement to the RO16, as the Chinese Terran charged in from out of nowhere to win his group. Before WCS Winter, Coffee was best known for earning a one-and-a-half year ban from competitive SC2 for small-time match-fixing, without any notable results when competing legitimately.
Coffee must have really hit the weights while he was in Blizzard prison, as he dominated the more experienced Seither by snowballing early damage into decisive all-ins. He then got in done in more standard games as well, defeating TLO 2-1. With a first place seed out of the RO32, Coffee has avoided the most dangerous #1 seeds in the tournament and is in a favorable position to advance even further.
Group C: Epic - Defeated PiLiPiLi and ExpecT in RO32
Coming out of Group B ahead of ExpecT and PiLiPiLi is Epic, who got drafted into an all-American group including puCK, MCanning, as well as overwhelming favorite Neeb. Epic is the exact type of player WCS America benefits the most—previously cut-off by the 4-player bottleneck in NA Challenger, the large number of open qualifier spots allowed many NA players to come out from beneath the shadow of Neeb and Scarlett. His sole appearance in a live WCS event to this point was WCS Austin last year, an event which saw him get wiped out by Stephano in the first round of groups.
Despite this unimpressive resume, Epic has actually shown flashes of potential elsewhere, most notably taking Cham to a competitive five games at Cheesedelphia #7. If WCS Americas can convince viewers to be more interested in Epic and other players in his 'tier,' then it will have been a experiment well-worth holding.
Group D: Astrea - Defeated MeomaikA and JonSnow in RO32
Astrea is someone who has been around for quite a long time; his very first WCS appearance was the first season of 2015, where he got a spot due to an ugly series against a then-retiring (hah) Scarlett, only to flounder as his unorthodox builds were figured out and he ran out of tricks to keep in his sleeve. Since then, Astrea failed to return to the WCS stage, being denied a second run after the scene so generously gifted him a first.
Until now. Astrea earned his spot by beating JonSnow, who is only a few months removed from a legitimate Round-of-16 appearance at WCS Montreal which most of these players would kill for, and he did so in crisp fashion. JonSnow was meant to be one of the most exciting to watch home-grown talents across the event—and Astrea stole his thunder. Going forward into a group with TIME and Kelazhur, as well as fellow American underdog Silky, Astrea faces some legitimate obstacles, but not without a dose of hope as well.